WATCH ABOVE: A top secret part of Canada’s aviation history is being recreated in the sky over Edmonton this week. Gord Steinke has the story.
EDMONTON — The Bravo 369 Flight Foundation, an American non-profit organization dedicated to Educational research, and RUSAVIA, a Russian aviation parts company, are celebrating the 70th year anniversary of the end of World War II by recreating a journey once secretly used to bring supplies, military aircraft, and other equipment to Allied forces from 1942-1945.
They are using three restored World War II planes to accomplish this feat.
“The project right now consists of basically two aircraft—our T6 Texan, the one that I’m flying, and a DC-3. We also have one support aircraft that’s coming along that’s flown by Allan Snowy, who’s one of our board members at the foundation. It’s a North American aviation product as well called a Navion. They’re flying support, mostly for safety, but also we tend to kind of throw a bit of our luggage in there that we can’t carry in the airplane,” said Jeff Geer, president and Founder of Bravo 369 Flight Foundation.
“We’re calling it ‘the flying pickup truck’.”
While they were in the city, they had the chance to meet with a representative of the Russian Consulate and visited the Alberta Aviation Museum.
“We started out in Great Falls and we had to skirt around some weather that was coming into Calgary. We had to bypass Calgary because we needed to get here…and we couldn’t afford to get weather down there, so we had to come to Edmonton right away,” said Geer.
They are following the old Alaska-Siberia Ferrying route which passes though Canada and Alaska, over the Bering Sea, and through Siberia as part of a journey from Great Falls, Montana to Krasnoyarsk, Russia, just like nearly 8,000 warplanes that were secretly delivered to the former Soviet Union from the United States between 1942 and 1945 as part of the U.S. Lend-Lease Program.
If the trip goes according to plan, the pilots will stop in Dawson Creek and Fort Nelson in British Columbia, and then visit Whitehorse and Watson Lake in Yukon before going on to Alaska.
There were 177 fatal crashes recorded on the Lend-Lease program mission. Those men and women did not receive recognition until at least 35 years following the end of the war—if at all.
To this day, many aviation museums only have a single plaque to commemorate the expedition. It is for this reason that Bravo 369 has decided to recreate the flight and create a documentary in the process.
“This is an untold story and so it’s really important to us to be able to use this flight to get the pilot’s experience of what it was like to fly these airplanes now, get that experience, and relate that to the pilots who flew during World War II, obtain oral histories of living pilots, and having those discussions to say, ‘Okay, what’s it like today versus 70 years ago?'” said Geer.
“I can tell you that it’s still as physically demanding today, we still have the same weather challenges—even in the summer time—but, you know, it’s important for us to produce this documentary film so we can preserve this history for many generations to come,” he added.
“Canada played a very important role in the delivery of these aircraft between Great Falls, Montana and Fairbanks, Alaska [in World War II]. Canada had the Staging Bases here, right here on the Edmonton municipal field was one of the places the craft would come and take on repair work and preparations and even if the weather was bad, you know, at least it was a safe haven to get the airplanes in and land until the weather cleared up the route,” said Geer.
According to Geer, Canada also developed a search and rescue program for pilots that were flying the route, which was instrumental in saving the lives of many pilots that went down due to weather conditions.
This partnership is about much more than just creating a historical documentary.
“With this event, we would like to remind people in Russia and people in the United States and Canada how our friendship worked and how America and Canada helped out a lot to Russian citizens during the tough time in 1940s. We are considering it a big step toward each other and have a very strong relationship and friendship between all three countries,” said Sergey Branov, general director of Russian Aviation Co. Ltd. and key investor in the Bravo 369 project.
American, Russian, and Canadian historians have been working together on this project to make the common history come to light.
Bravo 369 hopes the fact-based documentary will stimulate interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics for children and adults. They will continue to document their adventure, as it happens, on Twitter, Facebook, and on their website.
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